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17 ways to explore NYC on a budget

Get to know New York City on the cheap with this list of fun tours, activities and things to do under $50

Annalise Mantz
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Annalise Mantz
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It’s all too easy for first-time visitors to NYC to fall into the tourist trap of hop-on hop-off buses, Times Square hotels and overpriced Broadway tickets—not exactly cheap or authentic ways to experience the city. Instead, try some of our favorite ways to explore NYC on a budget. Nothing on this list costs more than $50, and it includes some of the best New York attractions, museums and even a few New York City tours. You might even be able to afford a night out at one of the best restaurants in NYC with all the dough you saved.

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to cheap things to do in NYC

Ways to explore NYC on a budget

  • Museums
  • Art and design
  • Central Park

With more than 2 million square feet of gallery space, the Metropolitan Museum of Art has plenty of world-class art to take in. The exhibits range from the exquisitely preserved Temple of Dendur to the original Tiffany windows displayed in the American wing to Georgia O’Keeffe’s Cow’s Skull: Red, White, and Blue in the modern galleries. Once you’ve had your fill of the art, hoof it upstairs to the rooftop bar to be rewarded with a spectacular view of Central Park and the Midtown skyline. $25

No visit to New York City would be complete without a stop in Central Park. Still, this 843-acre green space is so large that it’s nearly impossible to explore in one trip, let alone one day. Join a four-hour guided hike through the park’s forests and meadows to see more than the typical tourist spots. You’ll even learn how to forage for wild greens, mushrooms and berries along the way. $20

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You just can’t beat the views of lower Manhattan and DUMBO from the Brooklyn Bridge. Plus, the structure itself is pretty impressive: The 19th century suspension bridge with two Gothic towers was the largest in the world when it opened in 1883. Bike across the upper deck (preferably at sunrise or sunset) for the most spectacular views. $8 per hour

You could spend years taste testing every slice of pizza in the five boroughs; in fact, one man did, and he chronicled it all on his blog Slice Harvester. You probably don’t have enough time for an endeavour quite that ambitious. Instead, join a three-hour Crosstown Pizza Tour to sample pies from some of the best pizzerias in Greenwich Village and Little Italy. It even doubles as a historical walking tour of the area below 14th Street. $45

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Italian guerrilla artist Arturo Di Modica installed the world-famous Charging Bull statue in the Financial District in 1989 as a celebration of the strong American economy. After a short-lived attempt by the NYPD to seize the unpermitted statue, the city let the bull be. Today, the 3.5-ton creature is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city, along with its recently installed companion, the Fearless Girl. Visit Bowling Green on your own to snap a few photos of the iconic artwork or join a guided tour to gain a deeper understanding of the Financial District’s history. $24.95

  • Attractions
  • Parks and gardens
  • The Bronx

Founded in 1891, the New York Botanical Garden is the largest in the country. It’s best known for the annual orchid show and holiday train show in the stunning Haupt Conservatory, but there’s much more to explore. You could spend an entire day getting lost in the 250 acres of hills, gardens and forests. And if you work up an appetite from all that walking, the authentic Italian cafes and delis of nearby Arthur Avenue are just waiting for you. $20

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  • Attractions
  • Parks and gardens
  • Chelsea

A converted elevated railroad trestle, today’s High Line offers walkers picturesque views of Chelsea and the Hudson River. The edges of the walkway are dotted with sustainable gardens, and the park almost always has a new public art installation on view. Spend a few hours strolling the 1.45-mile expanse to soak up the scenery and snap a few artsy Instagrams along the way. Free

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If you spend your entire trip in Manhattan, you won’t even scratch the surface of everything New York has to offer. You should at least make time to visit Queens’ most famous attraction: the Unisphere. Built for the 1964 World’s Fair, the enormous silver globe serves as a symbol of American tech savvy and global unity. Spend a few hours exploring the massive park and nearby Queens Museum solo or sign up for a guided tour for a deeper look at the borough’s history. $30

  • Restaurants

The ramen burger, the raindrop cake, the spaghetti donut: All the latest viral food sensations seem to start at Smorgasburg. Head to Williamsburg on Saturdays or Prospect Park on Sundays from April through November to sample all of this year’s offerings. Pro tip: Bring a friend and vow to share everything to get the most bang for your buck. Free 

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